Lists are a perennial franchise favorite and if a magazine can carve out a quantifiable market segment to form a list around, they can become a favorite of readers and advertisers as well—particularly if the list is competitive to get on and represents a feather in the list-maker’s cap.
The Inc. 5000—a list of the fastest-growing private companies actually started out in the late 70s as the Inc. 100, then quickly grew into the Inc. 500 and then in 2007 ballooned into the Inc. 5000.
“It’s proof that you’ve arrived as an entrepreneur,” says Eric Schurenberg, editor of Inc. “One of the things that makes the Inc. 500 so valuable is it’s one of the few ways that private companies have to get recognition of what they’ve done. They’re not followed by Wall Street and they’re often regional, so they’re not known outside their local areas.”
The magazine has continued to promote the Inc. 500 as its franchise issue, but the list expands into the Inc. 5000 for a dedicated website channel and live event.
In all, the entire Inc. 500/5000 franchise brings in about $10 million annually.
Getting on the list has become a notable achievement for business owners and entrepreneurs who must quantify their business’s success in order to qualify for the list—Inc. editors separately verify the numbers. It’s not generally an easy feat to get private companies to divulge that kind of data, which gives Inc.’s list immediate value beyond its brand, but more on that later.
“One of the things about this franchise and other franchises that I’ve worked on that gives them legs is the rigor of the data,” says Schurenberg. “There are very few ‘editors’ favorites’-type stories that become valuable franchises. The Inc. 500 and the Fortune 500—those are heavily based on data and they’re objective rather than opinion.”
In the 2012 Inc. 5000, for example, the median growth rate was 1,435 percent and companies had to show a minimum of $2 million in annual revenue in 2011.
“We’ve been doing it practically since the magazine started in 1979, when it was the Inc. 100,” says Schurenberg. “It grew first by a multiple of five and then a multiple of ten—not everybody gets a trophy.”
Production of the issue, which is published in September, begins in early spring and it’s the one single-topic issue of the year. In terms of length, almost no expense is spared—the average Inc. 500 issue carries 100 more pages than a regular Inc. issue, including 72 percent more ad pages. “It allows us to really blow out the coverage of the Inc. 500 themselves in ways we normally wouldn’t have the space for,” says Schurenberg.
And speaking of content, the list throws off so much of it that Inc. has since built a dedicated web channel specifically for the list. This is where the full Inc. 5000 lives once the new issue hits.
An added value of the list is the database of private companies it has created over the years. “We can talk to those CEOs to identify the genome of success for these people and a lot of people are interested in that—foundations and academics, as well as a lot of brands that want to sell to them,” says Schurenberg.
It’s also invaluable as an editorial tool, he adds. Every year the list includes a new crop of successful leaders who have informative case studies to tell. “If you’re looking for people who are not generally in the public eye, but represent the highest level of achievement, they’re right there in the issue as examples and sources.”
Further, list-makers are often tapped for profiles and columnists. The magazine, for example, features a regular column called The Inc. 5000 Update that profiles a list-maker in a way that illustrates an issue of interest to the broader Inc. readership.
The Inc. 500/5000 event was created to honor the list makers and provide another platform to extend the brand. Close to 2,000 people attend the annual conference and Inc. organizes sporadic local gatherings centered around selected Inc. 5000 winners and executives. And event sponsorships often become a building block for bigger ad packages which include magazine pages and website display advertising.